Wednesday morning’s water main break and subsequent questions about the quality of water in Council Bluffs sent people scrambling. One of the larger tasks was to ensure school students were safe and that potentially contaminated water didn’t touch anything.
Bottled water replaced drinking water, but school lunches required an aggressive plan and creative solutions. The Thomas Jefferson High School kitchen is one of only a handful that cook all of the meals in the Council Bluffs Public School District. The staff had to prepare those meals without any water.
"Everybody is complaining about how they can't drink the water and how they'll get sick if they do and there are other kids who are like, I'm going to drink it and see what happens,” said Thomas Jefferson junior Annette Gonzales.
The lunch menu still featured some favorites like fries, but the fresh fruit that would have had to be washed was traded out for canned fruit. Plastic utensils and paper plates were used as well.
"Taking extra precautions by using plastic silverware and paper plates so we're not using plastic trays that that need to be washed,” said Council Bluffs’ Public Schools Diane Ostrowski. “Our goal is that when students come through here they've got a great lunch and see very little difference."
Junior Logan Thompson missed the melted cheese most of all as shredded cheese was substituted instead. “Now since we can't get water I'm so thirsty now. It's weird because any other day we can have water and I'm not thirsty, but now I'm dying of thirst."
The break occurred early enough that an alert was sent out by the city. The school district also alerted parents they should send bottled water with their children. "We see kids bring stuff from home, snacks and things like that, but I definitely saw more students with bottled water this morning coming into the building,” said TJ principal Lisa Dale.
Dale suggested parents and students be prepared to bring bottled water again Thursday, though that might not be so easy. We checked with several Council Bluffs stores and they were out of bottled water. More were expected to be delivered later on Wednesday.
Alegent Creighton Health Mercy Hospital and Alegent Creighton Clinic took steps to keep patients safe due to the water main break. A statement said "both the hospital and clinic locations are following appropriate safety protocols. We have received a shipment of clean ice and bottled water while shutting off public drinking fountains in the facility. We will monitor the situation for any changes."
Some restaurants closed, some opened late, others opened at their regular time despite having no water, doing the best they could under the circumstances. "I just started making changes and precautions then,” said Railway Inn owner Dan Driscoll. “Shut off the ice machine and made sure all of the employees knew not to serve drinks through the public water system and started boiling water."
Dan and his wife drove to Omaha to buy some bottled water for the bar. Everyone was facing the same challenges and everyone understood that some changes had to be made. But the understanding may fade if the challenges persist. "Most everything that I had for today was already prepared yesterday so that is one thing on my mind today is what I've got to get ready for tomorrow."
Due to the water main break, the ConAgra Foods Council Bluffs plant will not be running production on 1st or 2nd shift on Wednesday and Thursday. Normal operations will resume beginning 3rd shift on Thursday. Full production is scheduled for Friday at normal start-up times.